2 big, Fast sustainability issues

Slow might sound like a nice thing to do for ourselves, but what does Slow have to do with the ability of human beings to thrive into the future?

‘Fast’ culture privileges speed, immediacy, quantity and the short term over the long term, and leaves us in a state of hyper-stimulation and reactiveness. While a quantity-over-quality, ‘take away-throw away’ mindset is a familiar problem for many sustainability professionals, two problems arising from a Fast orientation that I would like to call out to consider as deeper issues are disconnection and short-sightedness.

Disconnection

I often lament over the inadequacy of the English language (or at least my grasp over it) to express what I mean by connection. But indulge me for a second.

Most obviously, disconnection from nature is extremely problematic. Research shows that people who have never had a special place in nature (my interpretation: never felt a connection to nature) are unlikely to exhibit pro-environmental behaviour. Someone wise said something along the lines of “you need to see if you are to want to save it.” I would take that one step further say “you need to feel it if you are to want to save it.” We need to let go of the barrier of the ego which keeps us feeling like a separate entity from the rest of nature. Nature is not just our playground, but we are an integral part of it, and the rest of life is an integral part of us.

If we are not connected to ourselves we cannot appreciate what we feel about situations that we face or know what we feel passionate about, let alone devise proactive responses. Talk about a barrier to being an engaged and active citizen! When we are going fast, it is all too easy to remain operating at a very superficial level of being. Indeed, I feel this is a large part of why we remain on a Fast course. Much like a long-neglected friendship, it can be painful and scary to try to get to know yourself, with some serious trust issues thrown in for good measure.

Not connecting with others is also a huge sustainability issue. Often sustainability issues are complex or wicked problems. Dealing with wicked problems is primarily a social process. This means needing to understand each other, having empathy and a sense of collective meaning. It seems to me that we are really struggling to find empathy for others in tough circumstances, struggling to make the time to listen and be able to see things from others’ points of view and let trust develop.

Short-sightedness 

Humans have evolved to privilege the short term for survival reasons. Biases in thinking are a fact of being human. Types of biases that are particularly pertinent to longterm and holistic thinking necessary for considering sustainability issues include:

Biases that steer the decisions of groups towards quick fixes include:

  • action-oriented biases – we are overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions and overestimate our ability to influence future outcomes leading to jumping into solutions where more caution would be warranted. We think the quick fix will work
  • legacy bias – we have an emotional attachment to investments already made, leading us to prefer directions stemming from that legacy
  • current moment bias – we prefer decisions that result in pain in the future rather than in the present
  • stability biases – tendency toward inertia in the presence of uncertainty; we don’t want to see real change, just enough change to make it seem like the problem will go away

Fast culture exacerbates these tendencies to focus on immediate issues. It takes a level of pro-activeness in order to think about the long term. With the constant stream of new information, bombardment of stimuli that snatches our attention and a culture that values immediacy and kind of compression occurs which leaves us with little room to enter a depth of thought to consider the long term and the complexity and uncertainty that goes along with it. We don’t want to wait for anything anymore.

Our short-sightedness also prevents us from considering a wider view, resulting in less ability to take into account impacts on the harder to measure stuff, such as social impact and environmental externalities.

We will be workshopping how sustainability professionals can utilise Slow principles and practices in their work on Friday April 11. Email me to rsvp claire@theslowproject.com

sustainability workshop invite

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